Sderot Residents, Visitng OU on Tour of US, Tell of an Abnormal Life and Call on the World’s Help

12 Jun 2007


It would be funny if it weren’t so sad: The residents of Sderot in Israel, the city bombarded on a daily basis by Kassam rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists from Gaza, no longer need alarm clocks. “The Kassams wake us up,” declared Stav Cohen, a 21-year-old resident of the beleagured community.

Ms. Cohen, a young woman whose house was hit by Kassams and destroyed when the family wasn’t home; Michal Kakoon, 35, a science teacher and a mother of two; and Aharon Polat, a 43-year-old social worker who moved to Kibbutz Carmi, located next to Sderot, after his family was removed from Gaza during the Disengagement, brought stories of life under siege to Orthodox Union headquarters Monday as part of a tour arranged by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, which will also take the group to Washington on Thursday.

As Michal Kakoon declared, the delegation is calling on the Orthodox Union to be its shlichim, or messengers, to get the word out – to Jews and non-Jews alike — of how the people of Sderot are suffering under the attack of the Kassams, a situation that has been going on for six years, but that has intensified following the Disengagement, with terrorists replacing Israelis in Gaza.

The group made a wise decision coming to the OU: the organization has been for several years deeply involved in Sderot, offering a variety of programs there. Two days ago, it called for national Sderot Shabbat to raise funds to expand its programming; and is conducting a Sderot Emergency Fund to provide increased psychological services to adults and children alike. Ten days ago, OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, his wife Chavi, and an OU delegation visiting the town, were forced to quickly run inside a store from the street and to take cover under a table when the sirens sounded announcing the launch of two Kassams. Rabbi Weinreb explained to his guests that he experienced that one time what they experience on a daily basis.

“We used to have a normal life. We don’t have a normal life,” said Michal Kakoon, mother of eight and five-year-old girls. “I’m not allowing my children to go outside to play with the children. I forbid them to go to the playground,” she said. “You have only 15 seconds when an alarm goes off to hide in the shelter, so it is very dangerous outside.”

She recounted how when she was in her car with her daughters, and the siren sounded, her youngest child cried out, “Please, please Mommy help me. I don’t want to die.”

“My daughters are not the people they used to be. They have no childhood, only fear.” She expressed the wish that “our lives will return to the way it was before this started. We are praying for better days to come.”

“We are praying too,” Rabbi Weinreb said.

Aharon Polat provides counseling to his fellow Sderot residents. He has many stories to tell of people being rushed off to psychiatrists, of “sleeping in the forest,” and other responses to trauma. He told the words of his six-year-old son, who recalling the Disengagement said, “I gave up my house. Now I have to run for my life.”

Noting the effect on children, Aharon Polat said, “Children are always crying, they won’t go out of the house, they live in the bathroom.”

Stav Cohen, whose house was hit by a rocket and demolished said, “It’s very hard to see your house destroyed completely,” following which, overcome, she broke down in tears. For safety, her family sleeps together in one room. “I’m 21. I shouldn’t be sleeping in the same room as my parents,” the lifelong resident of Sderot declared.
The group told amazing stories of how rockets passed through people’s homes, destroying the houses, but sparing the inhabitants. “There are miracles every day, “Michal Kakoon declared.

The group expressed its discontent with the government of Israel, which they said, was not doing enough to protect them. “Half the houses don’t have bomb shelters,” Stav Cohen said. The three are making the tour to call on the world for understanding and to do what it can to stop the bombardment.

“We want our lives back. We want a normal life, Michal Kakoon said. Addressing her OU audience, she declared, “We need you to tell our story to all the world.”

The Orthodox Union has been getting the word out since the bombardment began. When the OU holds its annual Mission to Washington tomorrow and Wednesday, it will deliver the message to a high-level audience, as part of its efforts to bring to Sderot what Michal Kakoon, Aharon Polat, Stav Cohen and their fellow residents of Sderot all deeply desire and which should be their birthright: A normal life, a life lived in peace.